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Blood Simple : Director's Cut (Joel Coen) 2000

The Coen brothersí first film, Blood Simple has evidently garnered enough of a following to justify a re-release a mere fifteen years later. Itís certainly not a bad film, but itís hardly the classic reinvention of film noir that it wants to be. This mildly shorter directorís cut opens with a humorous introduction by a phony film scholar who far overstates the worth of the film, suggesting the Coens were not entirely convinced the film warranted another theatrical run. 

Itís appropriate that the initials of the filmís title are B.S., as the film largely works on deception. Although the film is stylishly directed, it places a lot of emphasis on giving false impressions of whatís actually going on. There are false scares, deceptive dream sequences, and shots that conspire to momentarily trick us that the venue of events has shifted. Barry Sonnenfeld is the D.P., to great effect, and itís a shame he has chosen to be a mediocre director instead of a great cinematographer.  Almost everything here feels like a cheat, but since itís a genre piece a lot of the stylistic excess can be forgiven.  When that deception filters into the filmís plot, however, Iím less inclined to be so forgiving. So much of the plot depends on the characters saying enough to egg each other on, but not saying enough to set the story straight that credibility is definitely strained at all times. 

Still, a lot of the filmís isolated moments do work. The film is rather mean-spirited, and that tone fits the proceedings quite well. The Coens donít have much in the way of sympathy for any of their characters, and when itís over even the survivors of the ordeal arenít likely to get even a complete understanding of the chain of events as a reward. The filmís ill will toward the characters certainly adds a lot to the filmís level of suspense. You donít get the impression that any of the characters are safe once the double crossing begins. The filmís finale is almost the definition of a successful set piece, and itís orchestrated with a good deal of suspense. Still, the majority of the film feels like a parlor trick. Certainly most old film noir films were not so obvious when telegraphing their plot details. Everything is so spare here, that when a bonfire is introduced, or a certain line of dialogue is spoken, you know itís only a manner of minutes until it shows up again, slapping you back in the head in case you have forgotten about it. The film is far from a total miss, but itís barely a hit since it requires so much sleight of hand to accomplish what little it manages to accomplish.

***

October, 2001

Jeremy Heilman